On the count of three it’s musky time!

Jeff Little was targeting smallmouth when he ran into another predator, this beautiful musky. Photo Jeff Little
Jeff Little was targeting smallmouth when he ran into another predator, this beautiful musky. Photo Jeff Little

Musky: fish of a thousand casts, fish of three casts

By Jeff Little

The musky’s nickname of “a fish of a thousand casts” never rang true for me. The first one came on the third cast trying to catch one. The next intentionally caught musky has yet to bite. That’s not to say that I haven’t caught a bunch of them, or that I haven’t made tens of thousands of casts for them. It is just that musky tend to find me instead of me finding them.

The first one, a 35.5 inch Shenandoah River musky, hit a jerkbait in December 2001. A friend had pointed me in the direction of a spring fed pool that kept them happy and cool in Virginia’s hot summers, and fired up to eat suckers all winter long!

The jerkbait was a Rapala Husky Jerk with three trebles. Somehow I handled that fish without a lip gripper or pliers to remove the trebles. Wondering if I had to stick around for another 997 casts, I watched the fish slide back into the Shenandoah’s ledge trenches.

Fast forward 13 years, and the musky bug bit again. Last spring’s purchases included a mouth spreader, long-nose pliers, several Double Cowgirls and a net big enough to catch 747’s as if they were butterflies. On Pennsylvania’s Lake Marburg, several musky to 50 inches have been caught, but not by me. While bass fishing early season, I spotted three muskies that were easily in the mid 40’s.

The big fish sightings led to days of trolling deep diving plugs over 10 inches in length and sight casting the largest Rattle Traps available. Straining water meant straining my shoulders by heaving in-line spinners with massive double treble hooks and a pair of swinging dinner plates. I learned that even if I find musky in my kayak, that doesn’t mean that they can be caught.

The lake’s prevalent largemouth soon caught my attention again, and the massive hoop net spent the summer in the garage. Last Saturday was the first day in an online tournament to benefit the Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper. Prefishing the day before, a friend and I located a pod of smallmouth inside the mouth of a tributary. That water was still clear, but the river itself ran muddy from recent rains.

On the third cast of the day, I felt a distinct crunch, set the hook and knew from how powerful the first surge that on the other end of the line was the tournament-winning smallmouth bass. Ten seconds into a solid and even-peeling drag , doubt wandered in. By the time the fish was boatside, my buddy yelled down to me, “You got a musky, don’t you?!”

“I knew that it wasn’t a bass when you put down your net and grabbed your boca,”  he said as we set up the photo shoot of the toothy beast.

A fish of a thousand casts, or a fish of three casts, one thing’s for sure – if that hookup is going to happen, it’s on the musky’s terms, not mine!